By Rebekah Kearn, Courthouse News Service
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge vacated 50-year "incidental take permits" for timber harvesting in Northern spotted owl and Coho salmon habitat in a wilderness area.
Plaintiffs' attorney Wyatt Golding told Courthouse News that he and his clients are excited about the May 29 ruling.
"It's a win for the spotted owls and Coho salmon," Golding said. "The judge is right that the permits and environmental analysis violated the Endangered Species Act."
Designated in 1984, the Siskiyou Wilderness stretches across 182,802 acres and three national forests in Del Norte, Siskiyou and Humboldt counties in Northern California. It is home to several species of conifers, including the rare Alaska cedar, several rare fish and wildlife species, such as the Coho salmon and spotted owl, and a vast array of old-growth forests.
In 2009, defendant-intervenor Fruit Growers Supply Company applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service for 50-year permits to take, meaning to harm or kill, Northern spotted owl and Coho salmon in the course of timber harvesting on company land.
Fruit Growers and the federal agencies developed a habitat conservation plan and environmental impact statement purporting to mitigate harm to the animals. The agencies issued biological opinions that concluded the permits would not jeopardize the species or their critical habitats.
Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Klamath Forest Alliance challenged the permits and the environmental studies in August 2013.
Among other things, the groups argued that the documents relied on "speculative" assumptions about the habitat conservation plan's ability to protect spotted owls despite not knowing whether the nonparty U.S. Forest Service planned to log in the sites protected by the permits.
The groups also claimed that the habitat conservation plan erroneously concluded that Fruit Growers could protect Coho salmon from sediment discharge though it did not know how much would be discharged.
The court found in April this year that the services acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing two of the permits based on invalid no-jeopardy findings in the biological opinions and insufficient analysis of the cumulative impacts of the permits in the environmental impact statement.
The plaintiffs moved to vacate the remaining permits, and the Fisheries Service's biological opinion, the environmental impact statement, and the records of decision. They also wanted Fruit Growers to account for any take that has already occurred under the invalid permits. MORE >>>